Now Congress gets a taste of the maverick Sidhu (News Analysis)
(4 months ago)
Chandigarh, Jan 26 : The Indian cricket team has lived through it, the BJP has experienced it for over a decade, the Shiromani Akali Dal was for long a target and even the AAP got a taste of it. Now, it is Punjab's Congress party which is bearing the brunt of his idiosyncrasies.
Cabinet minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, the most prominent face in the top Punjab Congress leadership after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, is annoyed with the party leadership, including Amarinder, for ignoring him in the selection of mayoral candidates.
Sidhu, it seems, felt particularly slighted as he was not consulted even though he is the Minister for Local Government -- under whom the mayors and the municipal corporations function. Another big reason for his getting upset was that he was kept out of the loop in the short-listing and election of the mayor of Amritsar -- the city he represents in the state assembly.
In the past week, the cricketer-turned-politician has not only gone public with his displeasure over the Amritsar mayor issue but even skipped the election and oath-taking function of the new mayor. He even refused to meet his cabinet colleague, Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa, who is older to Sidhu, when the latter went to his residence in Amritsar to pacify him.
That is not all.
There was speculation that Sidhu, annoyed with the developments, could even skip Wednesday's cabinet meeting in Chandigarh. But he came, touched the feet of the Chief Minister, circulated a printed note in Punjabi making his displeasure known among cabinet colleagues and then participated in the cabinet meeting, without uttering a word about the matter, as if nothing had happened.
Sidhu, insiders in the Congress say, is upset that he was not designated Deputy Chief Minister by Amarinder Singh -- something which the Congress High Command had promised him before he joined the Congress.
Sidhu, who joined the Congress in January last year, just ahead of the Punjab assembly elections, entered politics in 2004 with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He won the Lok Sabha elections from the Amritsar parliamentary constituency in 2004, trouncing seven-time incumbent Raghunandan Lal Bhatia by nearly 110,000 votes.
He retained the seat in 2007 in a by-election necessitated by his conviction in a culpable homicide case and in 2009 and remained an MP till 2014. During this political decade, he blew hot and cold with the BJP -- at both the state and national levels, over being ignored at times.
When the Akali Dal-BJP alliance government came to power (2007-2017), Sidhu remained largely at loggerheads with the leadership and had run-ins with powerful cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia, the brother-in-law of the then all-powerful Deputy Chief Minister and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Sidhu was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in April 2016 by the BJP government at the Centre but he resigned in July and started hobnobbing with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress for the Punjab assembly polls. His attempt to create a new political front, Awaaz-e-Punjab, fizzled out within days.
During his days with the Indian cricket team too, Sidhu had a chequered stint.
Either he was too slow in his batting or ended up being called "Sixer Sidhu" given the number of sixes he started hitting late in his career. He once even walked out of the team during a series in England, upset with the then captain, Mohammed Azharuddin.
Controversy is nothing new to Sidhu. In 2012, he complained to the Amritsar police that a Facebook page opened in his name was a fake one.
In November 2009, Sidhu had moved a privilege motion in the Lok Sabha against Amritsar's Deputy Commissioner (DC), whom he accused of "causing impediments" in his performance as an elected representative. He charged the DC with "deliberately ignoring and humiliating" him by excluding him from important events in the constituency, including not being invited during the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the Sikh holy city.
In October 2009, Sidhu returned to his constituency after remaining away from it for nearly three months. He was annoyed that R.S. Chhina, a local BJP leader who was his detractor in the party, was appointed as the Amritsar Improvement Trust chief. He even submitted his "resignation" from the party.
Sidhu's absence gave the Congress leadership the opportunity to put up "Missing" posters at prominent places in Amritsar. One Congress leader even filed a complaint with the police seeking registration of a "Missing Person" report.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)